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Google Helps Mice Avoid A Better Trap

Google is expected to work even harder this year on Gmail, its Web-based e-mail product, so it can keep gaining ground on Microsoft and Yahoo. It just might succeed.
Google is expected to work even harder this year on Gmail, its Web-based e-mail product, so it can keep gaining ground on Microsoft and Yahoo. It just might succeed.I don't buy into the branding argument that people will use Gmail, or any of the other online tools Google offers (like Docs or Calendar) simply because of the supposed power of the brand name. It's cool and fun to say, but so is Yahoo, and I don't believe there's any real or motivating association to having a Gmail suffix to your address. I'm sure folks will comment otherwise, but it would have to be meaningful to literally millions of the digerati-impoverished. And it's not.

Will Google's stated desire to "organize the world's information" prompt people to allow themselves to be assimilated? Perhaps the benefits of having more advertising targeted to exploit your very own, personal proclivities will attract some folks, maybe even a lot. But again, I don't see it driving adoption to the scale Google desires.

And anyway, Google spends nothing on marketing or branding, right? So how does it add another 100 million or more users?

With functional tools like "mail goggles," and other tangible benefits -- not technologies -- that redefine the relevance and utility of e-mail itself.

The Goggle concept is simple: throw a math problem at someone writing an e-mail late a night, with the hope of catching someone who might be a bit tipsy or tired...and thus might not want to send the e-mail she or he has just written. Voila! Gmail can make me a better e-mail user. Yahoo's integration of some social services to its online in-box is a similar innovation.

I suspect that all the winners and losers in the endeavor to control the globe's every word and punctuation mark will be technically proficient. Much has been, and will be, written about integration, drag-and-drop, or whatever. But the reasons regular 'ol consumers pick one brand over another will have much more to do with novel, real-world innovations like "mail goggles" than with any gee-whiz capability.

Remember, most people upgraded from using VCRs without ever learning how to set the internal clocks. E-mail isn't a technology, it's a service, and making it relevant and easy in ways that the noninitiated can appreciate is the real challenge.

And it's the real opportunity.

Jonathan Salem Baskin writes the Dim Bulb blog and is the author of Branding Only Works On Cattle.

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